August Healthy Summer Challenge: Why Sleep is Important

Published: August 19, 2022


Each month this Summer, the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living has been focusing on ways to stay healthy while school is out. In June, we shared nutritious challenges and healthy food substitutions for a balanced diet. In July, we challenged you to incorporate more physical activity into your day. For the month of August, we’re focusing on promoting good sleep habits and mental health with our Healthy Summer Challenge calendar. There's still time to create healthy sleep habits. Read from Center Post-doctoral Fellow, Dr. Ethan Hunt, about the importance of sleep and his recommendations.

Sleep has always been one of the cornerstones of good health.  Despite data showing the benefits of sleep, our Internet-connected world provides content around the clock, making it difficult for adults and children to get enough sleep. However, a recent study shows that the effects of lack of sleep might be more damaging than previously thought.

Researchers from the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health recently published an article examining sleep duration and neurocognitive development in children utilizing data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH),  the ABCD study includes leading researchers in adolescent development and neuroscience located at 21 research sites across the country. More than 11,000 children ages 9-10 have been invited to join this study to track biological and behavioral development into young adulthood.

This particular study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Health examined how children’s sleep affects measures of mental health and brain function. Using propensity score matching, children were matched based on their sleep duration and recommended hours of nightly sleep for this age group. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that elementary-aged children (9-10 years old) sleep between 9-12 hours per night. This widely accepted recommendation allowed researchers to categorize children as sufficient or insufficient sleepers. In addition, participants were matched on specific covariates, including sex, socioeconomic status, and puberty status.

The authors found smaller brain volumes in attention, memory, and impulse control regions in children who consistently did not meet sleep recommendations of at least 9 hours. This was associated with more mental problems in cognition. These results suggest that insufficient sleep, e.g., less than 9 hours of sleep per night, may have long-term consequences on the brain development of children. Differences in brain volume were also correlated with increased mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and impulsive behavior.


Studies found that early consistent bedtimes and sleeping for at least nine hours for children are associated with improved sleep and many health outcomes.

Your body’s circadian clock responds to light as a signal to be awake and dark as a signal to fall asleep. Adults and children should try to increase the amount of light during the day or go outside in the sunlight to be more alert and then darken rooms at night to sleep better. Eliminating light from devices and using dark curtains can help keep rooms dark.  Further, we should expose our skin to bright sunlight directly after waking up to feel more alert and reset the circadian clock so we fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

Children should avoid blue light (televisions, computers, phones, and tablets) before bed as blue light inhibits melatonin production, which helps us get tired before bed. Have children read a book or engage in quiet play immediately before bedtime.  Establishing a regular bedtime can also help children to wind down and can help prevent bedtime battles.

The new school year is often considered the ‘other New Year’s Day’ for starting new habits.  Make this year one in which you and your children get enough sleep.  Your body (and brain) will thank you!


Science-backed podcasts that have many episodes on the importance of sleep and health:

Huberman Lab - Andrew Huberman, Ph.D, Professor Department of Neurobiology Stanford School of Medicine

Found my Fitness - Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.

Healthy Summer Challenge

August Healthy Summer Challenge Calendar - Download PDF